Menashe

“When I thought about making a film in Borough Park, in Yiddish, with real Hasidic Jews, to me it was just as interesting as any documentary I ever made.”, said director Joshua Z. Weinstein. Set in the Borough Park district of Brooklyn, is the story of Menashe (Menashe Lustig), a recently widowed Hasidic Jewish man. Menashe has had his young son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski), taken away to live with his brother-in-law, Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus). Rieven needs a mother, says the Rabbi (Meyer Schwartz). But Menashe is fat, and with his low wage job at a supermarket, it’s very unlikely he’ll find a wife. Still, Rabbi insists, he must marry. He constantly fights with Eizik to be more involved in his son’s life. It is clear that Rieven loves his dad and would rather live with him. Menashe’s life is a mess. He can’t pay his rent, he’s always late for work and his boss is losing patience. But Menashe loves his son and does not care about Rabbi or Eizik. This film is loosely based on Menashe Lustig’s life. And Lustig’s touching scenes with Ruben Niborski seemed so real that you feel that you are indeed watching a documentary. Menashe is slow-moving, but there is also an effective tension and suspense that involves us. The unusual setting of an American film in Yiddish that was shot in the Hasidic community, makes it even more compelling.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Menashe

 

Directed by:
Joshua Z. Weinstein

Screenplay by:
Alex Lipschultz
Musa Syeed
Joshua Z. Weinstein

Starring:
Menashe Lustig
Ruben Niborski
Yoel Weisshaus
Meyer Schwartz

81 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Yiddish and English with English subtitles.

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The only living boy in New York

When Thomas Webb (Callum Turner) sees his father kissing another woman, he decides to follow her… and then happens whatever happens in those types of films. Thomas, is a recent college graduate, lives in New York in a Lower East Side apartment when he is not spending the night at his parents’ Upper West Side house. One night while he’s out with his best friend Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), he sees his father, Ethan (Pierce Brosnan), a successful publisher, making out with Johanna (Kate Beckinsale). He’s so intrigued by this, and her that he starts to stalk her. Either he wants to stick it to his dad, who is always very critical of his son’s choices, or he wants to break up the relationship before Judith, his mom, finds out. It’s probably both of those. Judith (Cynthia Nixon) has suffered from depression and alcoholism. It is clear that Thomas loves his mom and that he has a rather tense relationship with hid dad. After a few days of playing detective, Thomas is confronted by Johanna. She knows she’s been followed and she knows who he is. And then, as expecting, they start having sex. Meanwhile, Thomas befriends one of his neighbor, W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges, who also narrates the film), a whisky-guzzling, chain-smoking novelist on the decline. Thomas confides to Gerald about Johanna, his dad and the whole mess. I found The only living boy in New York unexciting and boring. I would have thought that a film about a young man having an affair with his father’s mistress would, and should be sexy and a bit dirty. There is no sex! All that’s left is the acting. Jeff Bridges is good but the character he plays is such a cliché. Brosnan is better in avoiding the traps. Composer Rob Simonsen’s joyful and clever score is everything the film should be, but isn’t.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The only living boy in New York

 

Directed by:
Marc Webb

Screenplay by:
Allan Loeb

Starring:
Callum Turner
Kate Beckinsale
Pierce Brosnan
Cynthia Nixon
Jeff Bridges
Kiersey Clemons

88 min.

The big sick

The big sick is about Kumail, (Kumail Nanjiani playing himself) a stand-up comic who moonlights as a Uber driver. In his comedy routines Kumail talks about his Pakistani heritage and his Pakistani family. One evening, while performing at the comedy club, Kumail is interrupted by an audience member. It’s Emily (Zoe Kazan), a beautiful young woman. After the show, they connect and soon they are dating. But Kumail is hiding something from her. He does not tell her that, according to his traditional Muslim upbringing, his parents are hoping to arrange a marriage for Kumail. His parents don’t even know he is dating a non-Pakistani girl. When Emily, who thought they might have a future together, finds out the truth, she feels betrayed and angrily breaks off with him. A few weeks later, Kumail gets a phone call. Emily has become very ill and has been transported to hospital. He goes to the hospital and although he’s not her boyfriend anymore the doctors need him to authorize an urgent medically induced coma in order to save Emily’s life, while they investigate what is wrong with her. The arrival of Emily’s parents makes things a bit awkward. Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) know all about the break up and how much Emily suffered as a result. But he sticks around and the relationships between him and Emily’s parents grows as they get know each other. Meanwhile, Kumail’s parents have no knowledge of what is happening in their son’s life. His mother, Sharmeen (the hilariously deadpan Zenobia Shroff), invites a new Pakistani girl every time he comes for super. This is such an unusual film. What sets The big sick apart from other romantic comedies is that it is based on the real life romance between Kumail Nanjiani and his now wife Emily V. Gordon. They wrote the screenplay together. Some of the facts have changed, except that the real Emily really spent a few days in a coma. Yes, a romantic comedy about a comatose girlfriend. But this is such a great film on so many levels. First: It has a screenplay that sparkle with witty, intelligent dialogues. The evolution of the characters and their stories feels real, not forced. It flows. And if it manages to be both funny and touching that’s because of its excellent ensemble cast. The early lively banter between Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan deceptively seems so easy to do. But that is not so. The easier it seems, the harder it must have been for the actors to achieve. And it is the same for every actors in The big sick. There’s SNL’s Aidy Bryant as Mary, a fellow stand up comedienne, who has such a pleasant way with words. Romano and Hunter are the most surprising pairing of the film. Hunter plays a badass mom with a heart and an attitude. Wearing a pair of worn-out jeans with patches and speaking with the thickest southern accent, you know right from the start that Beth is not a person to cross. We remember Ray Romano from his TV show Everybody loves Raymond. We recognize his voice, his way with words, but we never suspected such depth. You just can’t go wrong with a trio like Hunter, Romano and Nanjiani. Kumail Nanjiani is in every scenes, so he has to carry a lot of the emotional weight of the film on his shoulder. It is my hope that The big sick will be the sleeper hit of the year.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The big sick

 

Directed by:
Michael Showalter

Screenplay by:
Emily V. Gordon
Kumail Nanjiani

Starring:
Kumail Nanjiani
Zoe Kazan
Holly Hunter
Ray Romano
Anupam Kher
Zenobia Shroff
Adeel Akhtar

119 min.

Rated 14A

In English and Urdu with English subtitles.

The commune (Kollektivet)

In 1995, Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg wrote and co-signed the Dogme 95 manifesto. Beside a lengthy, long-winded text, there were a set of vows that ruled the way the two directors, and their followers, were to make movies. These are the rules:

1. Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be
brought in (if a prop is necessary to the story, a location must be
chosen where the prop is to be found).
2. The sound must never be produced apart from the image, or vice
versa (music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is
being shoot).
3. The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility
attainable in the hand is permitted.
4. The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there
is too little light for exposure, the scene must be cut, or a single
lamp may be attached to the camera.)
5. Optical work and filters are forbidden
6. The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now).
8. Genre movies are not acceptable.
9. The film must be Academy 35mm.
10. The director must not be credited.

The Dogme 95 experiment lasted ten years in which 35 film were made worldwide. But from their first films, both von Trier and Vinterberg admit that they never followed the rules entirely. Today, Vinterberg makes films that are far removed from his Dogme years. The commune stars Trine Dyrholm and Ulrich Thomsen as Anna and Erik, and Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen as their teenage daughter Freja. After moving in the estate inherited from Erik’s dead father, Anna proposes that they start a commune. It’s clear that Erik is reluctant and only accept in the hope of saving his crumbling marriage. Soon, they welcome a few friends and some other people they have interviewed. Freja goes through the whole affair with a WTF look on her face. But it gets worse when she walks in on her dad and his mistress, a young student called Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann). Then Erik tells Anna about the affair, and announces that he wants Emma to move in with them and be part of the commune. That’s when Anna starts coming apart. She drinks more and her job as a popular TV news anchor is in jeopardy. As for 14 years old Freja, she has sex with an older boy from school. The commune has a bit of a mocking, satirical tone. When the members  have a meeting, it seems more like an excuse to drink beers. Then the usual “commune” stuff happens. They speak ad nauseam, drink more beers, make a democratic decision by vote, drink some more, and everybody goes skinny dipping. In the early scenes The commune is quite funny, until it becomes a family drama. It is surprising how much Vinterberg has veered from Dogme. You could not get a more conventional looking film. Vinterberg even inserts some pop music songs from the 70s. One thing is sure. One cannot be cynical about Trine Dyrholm’s performance as Anna. It is an impressive exploration of traumatic depression. Otherwise, The commune is too conventional to be interesting. It is quite ordinary.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The commune (Kollektivet)

 

Directed by:
Thomas Vinterberg

Screenplay by:
Tobias Lindholm
Thomas Vinterberg

Starring:
Ulrich Thomsen
Trine Dyrholm
Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen
Helene Reingaard Neumann
Fares Fares
Julie Agnete Vang
Lars Ranthe

111 min.

Rated 18A

In Danish with English subtitles.

Graduation (Bacalaureat)

Dr. Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni) lives with his depressed wife Magda (Lia Bugnar), and his daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) in a small Romanian town. Graduation begins with a rock being thrown through a window of their apartment. This the first of unexplained vandalism made on Romeo’s properties. On that day he drives Eliza to school, where she is supposed to take her final exams, before he goes to the hospital for his shift. Once there though he learns that Eliza has been assaulted. While Romeo is working with the police to find the assailant, he’s most sorry that she missed her exam. He tries to fix that by making some “arrangements” with the Exam committee president and other officials at school, not realizing (or not caring) that those men may be corrupt. To one man he even promises an easier organ transplant. Romeo also takes care of his ailing mother. And once in a while Romeo finds the time to visit his mistress Sandra (Malina Manovici). Things gets more problematic when inspectors come to the hospital to ask him questions. This is an intriguing film. But it is made of a series of longish conversations that are meant to show Romeo’s ability to have easy access to special treatments. And though Adrian Titieni and Maria-Victoria Dragus are excellent and the tension and suspense are maintained, at over 2 hours Graduation is too long. Still, it is intriguing.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Graduation (Bacalaureat)

 

Directed by:
Cristian Mungiu

Screenplay by:
Cristian Mungiu

Starring:
Adrian Titieni
Maria-Victoria Dragus
Lia Bugnar
Rare Andrici
Malina Manovici
Vlad Ivanov

128 min.

In Romanian with English subtitles.

After the storm (Umi yori mo mada fukaku)

Yoshiko Shinoda has two children. A son, Ryota (HIroshi Abe), and a daughter, Chinatsu (Satomi Kobayashi). Yoshiko is played by Kiki Kirin. In an early scene, Chinatsu visits her mother who lives in a tiny apartment. The snappy banter between the two woman is too good to resist. But the film centres on her son, Ryota, a middle-aged, divorced, failed writer. Actually, Ryota wrote one successful novel, then that was it. To earn a living, he works as a private eye, spying on cheating husbands and wives. He even follows and spies on his ex-wife, Kyoko (Yoko Maki). He’s still jealous and does not like her new boyfriend. Every time they meet, Ryota and Kyoko fight. Sometimes it’s about their son, Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa), but most of the time it’s about the unpaid child support he owes her. Like his recently deceased father, Ryota is a compulsive gambler. When he visits his mother, he searches through the apartment to see if he can find some money, or if his father left something that is worth selling or pawning. Yoshiko invites the whole family at her house the night of a much talked about and awaited typhoon. Even Chinatsu, who does not get along with her brother, has been invited. While the storm is raging outside, inside they trying to find some peace of mind and understand each other. Hirozaku Kore-eda’s good humoured screenplay is well served by an exquisite ensemble cast, headed by the fabulous Kiki Kirin. The private eye scenes in mid film were too long, but otherwise this is a beautiful, worthy film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

After the storm (Umi yori mo mada fukaku)

Directed by:
Hirozaku Kore-eda

Screenplay by:
Hirozaku Kore-eda

Starring:
HIroshi Abe
Yoko Maki
Kirin Kiki
Taiyo Yoshizawa
Satomi Kobayashi

117 min.

In Japanese with English subtitles.

Weirdos

“I’m just sick of watching Canadian movies with Canadian actors in Canadian backdrops and then they exchange money and it’s American cash.”

Ottawa born actor, director, screenwriter and producer, Jay Baruchel, Mansbridge One on one, March 2017

Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion on TV about Canadian cinema. Most of the people say that English Canadian films are boring and uninteresting. But to characterize all Canadian films that way, is a disservice to the artists who work so hard to make these films. Bruce McDonald has been making films in Canada for almost thirty years. His latest film, Weirdos, is a sweet coming of age tale. It begins when 15-year-old Kit (Dylan Authors) and his girlfriend Alice (Julia Sarah Stone) decide to run away from home in Antigonish, Nova Scotia , and hitchhike to Sydney, Nova Scotia. This takes place in 1976 during the American Bicentennial weekend. Kit and Alice are pretending to be spending the night at each other’s house. But it’s not long before Dave, Kit’s dad, finds out and is understandably worried. The teens are going to Sydney for an all night beach party. And, for some reasons, Kit wants to go live with his mom. They get lucky when they are picked up by a bunch of friends, who decide to drive with them to Sydney for the party. In the car, Alice witnesses Kit getting closer to Leo (Max Humphreys), the boy sitting beside him. Later at the beach, Alice’s suspicion is confirmed: Kit is gay. After the initial shock, Alice affirms her support for her best friend. Together they go to meet Kit’s mom. Laura, (played with delicately laced hysteria by Molly Parker) it is now clear to us, is suffering from some form of mental instability, and is not the right person to raise a child. Like in most of his previous films, Bruce McDonald has a great selection of Canadian songs everywhere throughout Weirdos. With the film’s innocent outlook and the luminous black-and-white photography (Becky Parsons was the cinematographer), all you need is a songs like Last song by Edward Bear, Carry me by The Stampeders or even Snowbird by Anne Murray to feel you are watching The Andy Griffith show. It does not take much. Kit walks down a country road and one of those songs is playing, and I hear Opie Taylor’s familiar whistling. What I liked about Weirdos is the innocence. The innocence of those black-and-white TV shows, of my teenage years during the 70s. The innocence that is part of Kit’s life and that I hope he’ll never lose. Thanks to Daniel McIvor for his sensitive screenplay and to McDonald for Weirdos and for his contribution to Canadian cinema. Go see Weirdos.

To see… I caught a great interview with Canadian filmmaker Jay Baruchel on (Peter) Mansbridge One on one. Baruchel is as articulate about Canadian culture and cinema as he is on our heritage and hockey. Here is another quote from that interview: “If we were in any other country in the world, it wouldn’t even be a discussion. If someone wanted to make a movie in England that took place in England, no one would ask them why.” Here is a link to that interview:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/mansbridge-one-on-one-jay-baruchel-1.4021480

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Weirdos

Directed by:
Bruce McDonald

Screenplay by:
Daniel McIvor

Starring:
Dylan Authors
Julia Sarah Stone
Molly Parker
Allan Hawco
Cathy Jones
Rhys Bevan-John
Max Humphreys

85 min.

Rated 14A

Toni Erdmann

Initially, Toni Erdmann did not seem to be a film that would appeal to me. But as the film and its characters progressed, I came to like it and occasionally found it very funny. Peter Simonischek stars as Winfried Conradi. Winfried is an elderly music teacher who likes to play pranks on his friends and family. He especially likes to wear makeup and pretend to be someone else. Or the simple act of wearing false teeth is enough for him. He always carries them in his shirt pockets. But when Winfried’s daughter visits him, it is clear that they don’t exactly connect very well. Ines (Sandra Hüller) is a serious outsourcing consultant. Winfried is wearing zombie makeup and, of course, Ines is looking at him as if he was an alien. After she goes back to work, Winfried surprises her in the lobby of the building where she works. He is wearing those false teeth and sunglasses. After the initial shock, Ines invites her dad at a reception and they spend a few days together. But it does not go well. She spends her time on the phone or working, and all he thinks about is making jokes at the most inopportune moment. He soon leaves. But it is clear they love each other. So Winfried is going to call on his favourite persona, Toni Erdmann, to teach Ines how to let loose, let go and relax a bit. I won’t tell you more, except that it is extremely funny, surprising and unconventional. The force of the film is the screenplay and the two main actors. From the start Peter Simonischek creates a character that has the likeness of a sad clown, unafraid to dare the audience, as he does with Ines, to look inward. Hüller’s Ines is an awkward , unhappy woman who wears her heart on her sleeves. In the third act, Hüller surprises us by taking over the film. And the Maren Ade screenplay has a feeling of a comedy of errors of Shakespearean proportion without being too pretentious. At 2 hours and 42 minutes it is a bit long. But we need that build-up. Impressive.

And the Oscar went to… Toni Erdmann lost Best foreign language film to The salesman from Iran.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Toni Erdmann

Directed by:
Maren Ade

Screenplay by:
Maren Ade

Starring:
Sandra Hüller
Peter Simonischek
Michael Wittenborn
Thomas Loibl
Trystan Pütter
Hadewych Minis

162 min.

Rated 14A

In German, English and Romanian with English subtitles.

20th Century women

It’s 1979, and teenage boy Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is being raised by his single mother, Dorothea (Annette Bening). But there is also a lodger, Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a quirky, twenty-something, amateur photographer, pink-haired punk. Gerwig has redefined quirkiness , turned it on its head and back again until it has become her own brand of idiosyncratic acting. In other words: It is unique, indescribable and occasionally can be a bit annoying. Jamie’s best friend is Julie (Elle Fanning). Julie is a slightly older, insecure girl who spends her nights sleeping with Jamie in his bed and still wants the relationship to remain platonic. But, of course, all that Jamie wants is to have sex with Julie. The only male influence around the house is William (Billy Crudup), a handyman who lodges at the house. William and Dorothea were once lovers, but the film isn’t exactly clear on what’s the status of their relation. Dorothea feels totally inadequate as a mother. At 65, with one foot still in the past (“She’s from the Depression.”), she’s trying as best she can to understand Jamie. But he too pains to understand his mother. She asks Abbie and Julie to try to guide him. Writer-director Mike Mills’ 2010 film Beginners told the true story about his father coming out as gay at 75 years old. Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for it. Mills calls 20th Century women a “loveletter” to the women who raised him. He based the character of Dorothea on his mother, Abbie on his sister and Julie on a friend. He uses the same techniques here (voice-over narrations, film archives and photos to underline the narrations), but 20th Century women is more focus. And I found some the comedy very effective. There is a hilarious scene after suppertime at Dorothea‘s, where Abbie keeps saying the most inappropriate, embarrassing things, making the guest cringe. A perfect “crawl under the table” moment. With perfect comic timing, the amazing Annette Bening’s Dorothea is a chain-smoking, strong-willed mother with an icy quizzical stare that would scare off many people. There is talk of an Oscar nomination for her. We’ll know soon.

And the Oscar went to… I thought there was no way that Mike Mills could win for his spirited screenplay. The winner was Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the sea.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

20th Century women

 

Directed by:

Mike Mills

Screenplay by:

Mike Mills

 

Starring:

Annette Bening

Greta Gerwig

Elle Fanning

Lucas Jade Zumann

Billy Crudup

 

118 min.

 

Rated 14A

 

 

Julieta

The last film we saw from Pedro Almodóvar was I’m so excited. It was not very good. By his usual standards anyway. I was hoping that with Julieta we would get a good and juicy Almodóvar. Something to reassure us that he still can produce some good films. The film was inspired by Chance, Soon and Silence, three Alice Munro short stories, from her book Runaway. Munro is the Canadian author, who was celebrated with the 2013 Nobel prize in literature as a “master of the contemporary short story”. No less! I have not read Runaway, so it is difficult to decipher what belongs to Munro, especially since the three short stories became a single story film. It starts in modern-day Madrid, where middle-aged Julieta Acros (Emma Suárez) is about to move to Portugal with her boyfriend, Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti). When she finds out that her estranged daughter Antia is living in Switzerland and has three children, she decides to cancel her plan and stay in Spain. Without telling Lorenzo the reason, she rents the old Madrid apartment where she raised Antia. She does so because she thinks it is the only place where Antia can get in touch with her. Julieta starts writing a diary recounting what happened in the past, in the hopes that Antia will some day read it. Flashback to the 80s, where a young Julieta (now played by Adriana Ugarte) meets Antia’s father, fisherman Xoan (Daniel Grao). Julieta soon moves in with him where housekeeper Marian (Rossy de Palma) is very open about her disapproval of the new arrangement. A series of tragedies and events will prevent Julieta and Antia from ever finding happiness. I found this latest film by Almodóvar totally underwhelming and unexciting. So much so that I cannot see what it is that interested him here. I have no enthusiasm for this film. Nada!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Julieta

Directed by:

Pedro Almodóvar

Screenplay by:

Pedro Almodóvar

Based on short stories from Runaway by Alice Munro

Starring:

Emma Suárez

Adriana Ugarte

Daniel Grao

Inma Cuesta

Michelle Jenner

Darío Grandinetti

Rossy de Palma

99 min.

Rated 18A

In Spanish with English subtitles.